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Dr. Helen Bond

Dr. Helen Bond
November 2007

What is a wiki?  According to the best known wiki, Wikipedia, “a wiki is computer software that allows users to easily create, edit and link web pages.”  However, for Dr. Helen Bond, an Assistant Professor of Education, a wiki is a powerful tool for collaborative learning. (To learn more about wikis, watch this 5-minute video.)

In 2006, Dr. Bond came to Howard’s Department of Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Maryland’s University College, where she directed a distance-learning program.  Since joining Howard’s faculty, Dr. Bond has published research on diversity and distance-learning, and she is currently writing about technologies that facilitate collaboration and other forms of social interaction.  Within her department, she is spearheading the development of electronic teaching portfolios and a Technology Certification Program for students.  At the same time, she is developing distance-learning courses for K-12 teachers with funds from a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.  So, naturally, Dr. Bond is interested in wikis:  they facilitate social interaction, portfolio development, and distance learning.  But Dr. Bond has found that wikis also help her fulfill her most important goal:  “using technology to solve important social problems.” 

With that goal in mind, Dr. Bond established the Urban Education Book Club in her course Social Foundations of Urban Education in Spring 2007.  She observed, “These 21st Century learners are accustomed to interacting with a variety of audio visual media on the web.  They surf, they blog, they chat, and interact with iPods, YouTube, MySpace, and anything else they can get their hands on.  Why not channel these interests and abilities toward using technology to read and discuss good books that will help them become better teachers for our urban schools?”  Dr. Bond decided to do just that with the help of a free, user-friendly wiki service called Pbwiki (http:///www.pbworks.com ).  Via wikis, she sought to develop online reading communities that would discuss critical issues in urban education while equipping pre-service teachers with technology skills that enhance teaching and learning.  Each club consisted of 4-6 students who used the group’s wiki to analyze issues of educational opportunity and equity in urban schools.  Each of the five clubs read a different book, books such as Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together at the Cafeteria Table? and Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame of a Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.  Their wikis functioned as electronic portfolios of their reading experience, documenting club membership, favorite quotations, group discussions, and journal entries (see, for instance http://ihaveadreamteam.pbworks.com).  Meanwhile, Dr.Bond monitored the groups’ progress by reviewing the revisions and level of collaboration—an easy-enough task since the wiki maintained a record of all changes as members authored and edited the content.  Dr. Bond also monitored the members’ roles.  Although all members were required to interact via the wiki, each had a different responsibility as a Leader, Summarizer, Question Writer, or Discussion Director.

Dr. Helen BondBy the end of the term, the project had fulfilled Dr. Bond’s objectives.  Each club had successfully executed its work plan by reading the assigned book and performing the assigned roles.  Moreover, the project compelled students to think critically about urban education.  While a pre-course survey indicated that more than 90% of the students thought of urban education as just “inner city schools,” Dr. Bond reported that the exit surveys “revealed that students made critical connections between major ideas about urban education from reading and discussing their books and disseminating their ideas on their web sites.”  (Click here to see a PowerPoint presentation with pictures and comments from the class.) 

The wiki technology proved particularly helpful.  One member of the “Cafeteria Black Kids” group wrote:  “All of our members are responsible and they all raise questions that cause us to think outside the box.  Anytime new events arose it was easy to contact every member and solve any issues.  I have begun to look forward to our discussions about the book, and I enjoy our interactive learning process.”  Comments such as this one show how effectively Dr. Bond integrated wiki technology into her curriculum.  According to a colleague in the School of Education, “Dr. Bond is truly an effective instructor who uses technology not for the sake of technology, but to enhance the learning experiences for students.” 



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